….BBC Television broadcast The Beatles movie ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, after almost being untouchable since their first brush with fame, this was the first time that the Beatles star began to waver. The film was broadcast on the BBC in black & white (colour telly was still a few years off, actually can you imagine ‘Magical Mystery Tour in black & white?), for a nation used to those lovable mop-tops this mixed up, free-form tele-visual extravaganza was just not cricket!
The papers on the 27th panned the film and pronounced it an utter disaster – in fact the negative reaction was so strong that a US television deal for broadcasting the movie was cancelled.
In recent years the film has been reappraised, this is what the Guardian had to say about it…
Fab furore: Is it time to re-evaluate the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour?
On Monday 11 September 1967, two hours later than scheduled, a coach pulled out of Allsop Place, just behind Baker Street tube station. Filling 40 of its 43 seats were actors, technicians and camera operators – along with Paul McCartney, and a crowd of friends and associates of the Beatles. John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were soon picked up near their commuter-belt homes in Surrey – whereupon the coach headed for an inconclusive and ill-starred trek around the West Country, ending in the less-than-glamorous environs of Newquay in Cornwall.
Just over three months later, after further filming at a Kent airfield, BBC1 screened the hour-long film the Beatles titled Magical Mystery Tour. It went out on Boxing Day at 8.35pm and 15 million people tuned in – but, presented with a bamboozling melange of unconnected scenes, often shakily shot and seemingly stuck together at random, most were not best pleased. Indeed, history records that the BBC’s so-called reaction index – a number arrived at after quizzing viewers about what they had seen – scored its lowest-ever rating: 23 out of 100.
This rum turn of events, only a few months after the death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, has long been seen as the Beatles’ one true disaster. “Beatles mystery tour baffles viewers” was the headline in the Mirror, flagging up claims that “by the thousand, viewers protested to the BBC”. The Express called it “tasteless nonsense” and “blatant rubbish”. In the States, NBC cancelled an agreement to show the film on its broadcastleaving a print of it to be passed round US universities; it would not be shown again in Britain for over a decade. Only the Guardian offered any respite, praising “an inspired freewheeling achievement … a kind of fantasy morality play about the grossness, warmth and stupidity of the (Beatles’) audience”.
Anthony Wall, editor of the BBC arts programme Arena since 1985, was in his mid-teens back then. At his home in south London, he sat watching Magical Mystery Tour with his family and some neighbours, whose angry bafflement was of a piece with what would pour forth the next day. “I am that textbook 16-year-old who sat there in the front room, with the indoor aerial in one hand, thinking I was watching something completely wondrous,” he says. “I can remember looking back at my mother and the neighbours, who were saying, ‘Absolutely shocking – outrageous.’
Wall goes on: “For years, you had to be a bit trepidatious about saying you liked Magical Mystery Tour. It was the same thing as Carry On films and spaghetti westerns being regarded with absolute contempt – whereas they’re now seen as masterpieces. To say you liked Magical Mystery Tour was almost an indication that there was something wrong with you. It’s taken all this time for it to be reassessed.”
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